Older drivers on psychoactive drugs at higher risk for car crash accidents, study reveals

A recent study from the Curtin Monash Accident Research Centre (C-MARC) reveals that older drivers using psychoactive medication including sleeping pills, mood stabilisers and anti-depressants are more likely to be involved in vehicle accidents.

The study headed by Lynn Meuleners evaluated crash statistics in hospitals to learn the increased danger for older people on the road. The study entitled Psychoactive Medications and Crash Involvement Requiring Hospitalisation for Older Drivers: A Population-Based Study looked into records of more than 600 WA drivers aged 60 and older who were hospitalised due to motor vehicle accidents between 2002 and 2008.

The West Australian reports that the researchers found those taking psychoactive drugs like benzodiazepines, which are used for sleep and anxiety disorders, were five times more likely to be involved in an accident resulting in hospitalisation.

Drivers taking anti-depressants were twice as likely to be involved in hospitalisation crashes. Professor Meuleners compared the possible level of damage caused by these drugs to that experienced when consuming alcohol.

“They are all medications that act on the central nervous system and they can slow reaction times and make you drowsy,” said Professor Meuleners.

“Add age on top of that and possibly other medications and the risks when driving increase.”

Professor Meuleners believes that the results of this study will be specifically beneficial in road safety and for physicians when explaining the risks of these medications to their patients.

The study was one of the first of its kind in Australia and has gained attention internationally because of its results and the method of relating WA hospital morbidity data with the Pharmaceuticals Benefits Scheme.

“By linking the data we could see for the first time the link between people taking these particular medications and those who had a car crash and who were hospitalised,” Professor Meuleners said.

“But these are only crashes where people were hospitalised so it doesn’t include other less serious crashes where people didn’t go to hospital or just damaged property.

“We only reported on the cases we knew about but it could possibly be much more.”

The study was part of a new area of study into driving and older drivers being conducted at Curtin University and the Curtin Monash Accident Research Centre.

The study is published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

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